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Reclaiming Pro-Israel Peace and Stability

04/16/2008 11:32 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

"In political life in America today, everyone says they're a friend of
Israel." That is one of the conclusions Aaron David Miller draws in
his powerful new book on America's elusive search for Arab-Israeli
peace, entitled The Much Too Promised Land. Miller, a long time
member of the State Department's peace team, is absolutely right.
That is a phenomenal achievement -- primarily for America's Jewish
community, and for Israel itself. And that achievement also begs a
question -- how does that friendship translate into policy; how is it put
to use?

For many Israelis who define themselves as progressives, myself
included, the friendship has come to resemble a rather abusive
relationship. Israel is cast as the distant, idealized and embattled
homeland whose role is not to cede any inch of territory and not to
talk to the bad guys. No, we should send generation after generation
to defend illegal settlements and to guard the very checkpoints that
give rise to yet more frustration, anger and ultimately violence. Of
course, Israelis are first and foremost responsible for solving our
own problems. It is however not made any easier when our greatest
ally and enabler encourages our most self-destructive instincts. A
friend does not hand over the car keys to a drunken soul mate. A
friend does not turn a blind eye to the folly and entanglement of
endless settlement expansion. Periods of Jewish sovereignty and
distant history begin to be self-inflicted wounds of homegrown
zealots.

I guess it might look much the same to progressives in the US. Sure,
one should support a safe and secure Israel, but why provide the cover
for a 40 year plus occupation, the injustice of which resonates with a
great passion and emotion throughout the Arab and Muslim world,
providing succor to anti-Americanism and undermining US security?

That equation, that definition of friendship, is not working for
either Israeli or American interests -- and as of today there is a new
way to do something about it. Today saw the launching of J Street and
the J Street PAC
, dedicated to representing:

Americans, primarily but not exclusively Jewish, who support Israel
and its desire for security as the Jewish homeland, as well as the
right of the Palestinians to a sovereign state of their own -- two
states living side-by-side in peace and security...[believing that]
ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is in the best interests of
Israel, the United States, the Palestinians, and the region as a
whole.

That means redefining pro-Israel and redefining the friendship. Yes,
redefining, not ending. J Street is unashamedly pro-Israel and stands
up for Israeli's right to security. In fact this is precisely what
leads it to adopt the policy positions that can be read here, and
include the call for hard-headed diplomatic engagement with Syria and
Iran and for US leadership to finally achieve a two state solution,
not just bloviate about it.

The supposed binary choice -- that one either has to be silent in the
face of the ongoing occupation, settlements and conflict, or otherwise
join the calls for a boycott of Israel or worse, is a false one.
There is a need to reclaim a narrative that is both pro-Israel and
pro-peace, pro-security and anti-occupation. An approach informed by
tough-minded diplomacy, realism, non-kinetic problem solving and
respect for human rights that applies to other conflicts can and
should also be applied to the Israeli-Arab conflict and to broader
issues in the Middle East.

The ability to have an open debate and to use one's critical thinking
faculties should not be abandoned only when Israel is the subject at
hand. A closed debate divorced from reality certainly does Israel no
favors. And given Aaron Miller's truism, namely that the
Israeli-American partnership is solid, there is really no need for the
American Jewish community to seek allies in such murky waters as among
the evangelical Zionist right and the neoconservatives whose policy
prescriptions have been such a disaster. In fact it seems
antithetical to Jewish values and to the history of American Jewish
political struggles to indulge in such alliances--and it is certainly
an affront to the liberal bent of that community.

J Street will build on the existing educational and advocacy efforts
of groups like the Israel Policy Forum, Americans for Peace Now, and
Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, and will add an explicitly political dimension,
endorsing or opposing candidates running for office. J Street aims to
build a coalition of sanity on American Middle East policy that will
embrace Jews and non-Jews alike.

According to the J Street logic, and it is a powerful one, if an
American public elected official takes woefully irresponsible
positions on the Middle East then there should be a price to pay;
likewise if they do the right thing there should be a reward. I think
the establishment of J Street is a fine thing, but this will be an
effort not for Israelis, but Americans. Israelis who seek a future
beyond occupation, undefined borders and conflict, and believe that
America has a role in helping to realize that future, can support,
encourage, and wish this effort well. Many Israelis have already done
so in a letter of support, including former IDF chiefs of staff,
former commanders of the Navy and of the Central Command, of Gaza and
the West Bank, former ministers, diplomats, and leaders of civil
society.

The hypothesis that the majority of Americans, including American
Jews, support a more peaceful, stable and less angry Middle East, and
that they eschew unilateral militarism and the resulting chaos wrought
by the neocons, now has a political address. It is www.jstreet.org.

This piece is written in a personal capacity.